Sidney Poitier Pens Letters to Great-Granddaughter in Book

Article excerpt

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- It all began when Sidney Poitier flew to Atlanta in late December 2005 for the birth of his first great- granddaughter.

"When I arrived at the hospital, I saw my great-granddaughter in her mother's arms," he recalled. "Directly behind her was my daughter, the baby's grandmother. Next to her was my former wife, who was the baby's great-grandmother.

"I saw that I was in a room of four generations. I would soon be 80, and Ayele was one day old. I realized that the time between us would be short. I decided I would write a book in the form of letters so I could cover everything that I've felt and learned, and talk to her about things that I don't understand."

The result is "Life Beyond Measure, Letters to My Great- Granddaughter" (HarperOne, $25.95). It follows his 1980 autobiography, "This Life," but is much more personal, with little reference to his movie career. The chapter titles tell of his concerns. Among them: "Me and God," "Battling the Demons," "People of Courage," "The World I Leave You."

"Life Beyond Measure" was a grueling task for Poitier, who had to dig into his earliest memories, his relations with his parents, his sometimes wayward youth.

"I'm going to quit writing," he vowed, somewhat unconvincingly. "I was working eight to 10 hours a day on the book. I'm going to relax, find something else to do." Still, he talked about three more books he wants to write.

Poitier sat down for an interview in his comfortably cluttered house a few blocks from the Beverly Hills Hotel. "My wife collects knickknacks," he explained.

He and Joanna Poitier live alone. Gone are the girls: Gina, Pamela, Beverly and Sheri from his marriage to Juanita Poitier, as well as Sydney and Anika, from the marriage to actress Joanna Shimkus.

At 81, Sidney Poitier seems little changed from his movie years. His hair is a bit thinner, and he has been forced to abandon tennis and golf because of a bad back. But he still stands tall, and his face is smooth.

"I retired from acting a long time ago," he remarked (his last film was "The Jackal" in 1997). "I had spent all that I had to spend in terms of creativeness.

"The work was organic, and I tried to make it organic for a long time. By the end of 56 movies ... I found that I had spent it as honestly as I could, and I was obliged to myself to quit."

He still gets offers for films, but he's not interested in working. He said he's playing the grandfather and the great- grandfather in his real life. He now has two great-granddaughters.

Poitier spent his early life in the Caribbean, but he was born in the United States. His father and his six-and-a-half-months pregnant wife had gone to Miami to sell their tomato crop. Their mission over, they prepared for the trip back home. But Sidney was born, all three pounds of him. Survival seemed doubtful, and his father found a shoe box for the burial. …